Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Gaming Culture: Quoting Cult Favorites

I didn't really know about this when I started, but I grew into it when I began hanging out with larger intermingled gaming groups at the Recreation Center and at conventions: quoting cult movies.

In some cases, I actually started with the quotes and watched the movies. Other times I'd watched the movies already, and remember the quote only when it was brought up. Still other times, I'd have to ask before I could remember the flick.

Here are a few of the movies we used to quote a lot from, and one favorite quote:

Aliens: "Marines! We are leaving!"
Ghostbusters: "You will have saved the lives of millions of registered voters."

Blues Brothers: "We're on a mission from God."
Star Wars trilogy: "Stay on target. Stay on target!"
Star Trek movies: "Target that explosion and fire."
Big Trouble in Little China: "Master! You are flesh!"
Blade Runner: "If only you could see what I've seen with your eyes."
Conan: "Enough talk!"
Running Scared: "Habla Smith & Wesson?"
Predator: "If it bleeds, we can kill it."
The Warriors: "Warriors! Come out and play!"
Monty Python (Holy Grail): "Tis but a scratch."
The Princess Bride: "Inconceivable!"
Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension: "Laugh while you can, monkey boy."

There are more of course -- but I may be boring you already. Were we the only ones who did this?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Dark Corners of Mystara: New Adventurers in Karameikos

I mentioned my fondness of "the Shearing" in one of my older posts about Mystara and Karameikos, due to its rationale for creating adventurers.

Karameikans, however, view it as a Traladaran custom that was adopted by the incoming Thyatians in order to 'weed out' the less capable, less ambitious members of families, since it would be up to either the family or society to determine if the 'sheared' individual was worthy of reclaiming his name.

As intriguing as a lengthier bit of speculation on the cultural effects of this culture might be, my thoughts are on how young men and women might find their ways into the well-known adventuring classes through this custom.

Fighters


This seems to be the most straightforward, with folks who have some measure of promise in fighting ability falling into jobs that deal with protecting things, fighting people, and so on. Perhaps they start off informally, or perhaps they were already quite skilled before the shearing.

It stands to reason that certain adventuring / military / mercenary organizations would have the equivalent of a well-known recruiting office in larger cities, making it easier for would-be adventurers to sign up.

Thieves


Another seemingly straightforward option for those who lean towards stealth, slight of hand, misdirection, and a taste for less reputable means of making a living.

However, it should be noted that spies and slavers may also be viewed as higher levels of achievement in this base profession, so it may be that sheared children entering this profession may also have been earmarked for it by specific groups rather than assuming that they just accept youngsters who 'fall into' the profession.

Clerics


Perhaps the particularly devout already make their intentions clear early on. After the Shearing ceremony, it's not inconceivable that some children would go to their nearest temple and offer their services and lives to the Church of Thyatia (or Traldar).

Naturally, they must first prove themselves and be favored by their patron deities before they are granted more abilities and influence. And yet, the 'adventuring cleric' is probably unusual and reserved for those with a specific skillset or temperament. Those more skilled at administration and/or community building would likely have another 'career path' in the church organization.

Magic-Users

"Tell me, son. Do you like explosions? Can you say F'thagn?
Three times fast? Excellent, excellent..."
Karameikos has a single well-known school of magic. It seems to me that with the Grand Duke's goal of growing the spell-casting abilities of his fledgling nation, he'd want to be more proactive in grabbing potential mages from the populace. Furthermore, it seems unlikely that some child will just say: "ooh, I think I'll give magery a shot. See if I like it."

More likely, there are traveling mages who scour the countryside for young talent, hold small tests under the guise of fortune-tellers or performers, and try to bend the ears of their targeted youth towards joining the official college of magic.

And while Bargle doesn't seem to be the most likely to have string of apprentices, other less reputable mages might be sought out by souls less interested in the country's good fortune and more in the accumulation of personal power.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Setting Expeditions: The Hero Universe, Part VI -- The Future

At last, we're in the future eras of the Hero Universe. The past five installments can be found here...

Setting Expeditions: The Hero Universe, Part I -- Pre-Cataclysm
Setting Expeditions: The Hero Universe, Part II -- Post-Cataclysm to the Medieval Era
Setting Expeditions: The Hero Universe, Part III -- Musketeers, Pirates, and Revolutions
Setting Expeditions: The Hero Universe, Part IV -- Cowboys and Victorians 
Setting Expeditions: The Hero Universe, Part V -- Mystery Men and Super-heroes

The future itself is open ended; plenty of space to insert your own side timeline or slap something beyond the last era. Like a Fading Suns-ish setting, for example.

Anyway, here we go:

Cyber Hero (2020 to 2080)

The rise of pervasive computer technology, genetic engineering, and increasing political factionalism and splintering (including terrorism) lead to constant struggles for power over this new world order. Techno-anarchists, vigilantes, eco-terrorists, rogue capitalists, and others fight against the domination of the major forces in society, governments and mega-corporations.

During this period, mankind builds its first tentative manned orbital and lunar colonies, and sends explorers to Mars. But for the most part the eyes of men are not cast up toward the stars, but downward into the squalid urban settings where the vast majority of them live, or “outward” into the glittering neon pseudoworld of the CyberNet. Superheroes and superpowers no longer play any role, having died off or faded away.

Cyberpunk style, but with a heroic bent, as vigilante-style heroes with attitude fight back against the forces that threaten to plunge the world into darkness.

Notes: It's really easy to mine almost all the cyberpunk and lower-level transhumanist materials out there for this genre. In fact, for the more Akira and Ghost in the Shell-inspired dystopian future, there's an excellent sourcebook from Blackwyrm Games: Kazei 5 by Michael Surbrook.

Solar Hero (2080 to 2200)

Humans make their first true journeys away from their birthplace. They explore their solar system, establishing colonies and exploiting the heavens for commercial gain. Relatively cheap space travel has a huge impact on society. Cut off from the mainstream of human civilization, colonies and outposts sometimes become lawless places, with reports of slave labor in the asteroid belts. Countries and corporations wage an undeclared war over the resources of the system, and many new political entities appear. An alien invasion in 2153 throws all of this into even deeper turmoil.

By this point Earth has saved itself from the potential societal collapse hinted at in Cyber Hero. Solar Hero is a hard SF/low SF setting limited to our solar system, with perhaps tentative, slower-than light (sleeper ships, generation ships, and the like) journeys to nearby systems, (e.g., Alpha Centauri). Who knows what mysteries may lurk, hidden on the planets so close to us, and yet so far away?


Notes: Folks unfamiliar with this genre of SF might think that the solar system is a small place to adventure in. Not so! A great example of such a (surprisingly Hard SF) setting from another publisher is Jovian Chronicles by DreamPod 9. Yes, it does feature giant mechs warring against one another -- more Gundam than Mechwarrior though.

Interstellar Era (2200 to 2300)

Human existence is revolutionized by the discovery of FTL travel (or perhaps enterprising humans swipe it from the defeated alien invaders of Solar Hero). At first FTL drives aren’t much faster than 1 light-year per year, but they improve slowly and steadily. Military and commercial vessels tasked with exploration spread out through the stars within 200 light-years of Earth.

Independent traders seek to bring back the wealth of the stars as adventurous colonists try to establish new homes on strange worlds. Humanity encounters many alien species.

Notes: The default FTL travel used seems far removed from the Jumpgate-based SF like Babylon 5, and more like Star Trek: Enterprise. Or even Firefly. Just sayin'.

Alien Wars (2300 to 2400)

Mankind engages in its first interstellar war with an implacably hostile species, the insectoid/reptiloid Xenovores. Powered armor, starship battles, and bizarre alien tactics and technology take center stage as the vicious Xenovores try to exterminate humanity. The war rages for a century throughout human and Xenovore space, throwing mankind into turmoil and shattering his sphere of control into many individual worlds (or small confederations of worlds) that have little or no contact with Earth -- and soon don’t feel beholden to it anymore.

Note: think Starship Troopers meets Aliens. But with other alien races around as well.

The Terran Empire (2400 to 2700)

Nope, this isn't available anymore.
In the wake of the costly defeat (but not utter destruction) of the Xenovores, militarists struggle for control over Humanspace after Earth’s attempt to re-assert its control fails in the face of determined independence movements in many Human worlds and systems. After decades of struggle, Admiral Marissa DeValiere establishes the Terran Empire, which the House of DeValiere rules for the next 250 years. Forged from the bits and pieces of Humanspace, and soon including various conquered or allied alien races, the Empire is a political juggernaut, wielding influence throughout the Milky Way Galaxy.

The Terran Empire setting features a multitude of adventuring possibilities: political intrigue, rebellions against the Empire’s authority, military action against alien enemies or targets of conquest, galactic power struggles with alien empires, expanding the boundaries of Human knowledge via exploration and trade, and many more.

Note: this has a feel of Traveller, with a touch of the Star Wars Old Republic. It is an Empire that will fragment, but has a good run.

The Galactic Federation (2700 to at least 3000, perhaps beyond)

After decades of worsening political unrest beginning about 2660, the Empire falls in 2702, leading to thirty years of instability, warlordism, and troubles. Eventually, led by charismatic diplomats and scientists, most of humanity (and some alien species) comes together to form the Galactic Federation of Free Worlds. Based on free trade, democracy, and federalism, it rebuilds, then blossoms and expands for centuries.

Note: this is more like the Federation of Star Trek, and perhaps a bit more of the Old Republic of Star Wars. The instability era could be likened to Farscape in feel.

Galactic Champions (3000)

As magic once again subtly waxes, superhumans (and super-beings from other species) arise throughout the galaxy. Superheroes and starships fight planet-shattering battles to preserve the future of sapient life in the galaxy against a myriad of terrifying threats. Civilization breaks down in a few places where magic becomes so strong that technology becomes unreliable.

Note: this so Legion of Super-Heroes, honestly. I love it. Especially because the default setting brings back its equivalent of Ultron into the high-tech far future. And all this talk of magic bring to mind the Magic Wars that erupted at the end of the original LSH series. No, they never really fought Magneto, but mutants would rationalize why so many humans suddenly developed powers to deal with the difficulties of their respective planets.

Beyond 3000

The possibilities are endless!

Note: Yep, Fading Suns and probably something Transhumanist like Eclipse Phase.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dungeon Crawl Classics available on RPGNow

Get 'em while they're hot. Impressive number of reviews in such a short span of time.

A lot of good or intriguing press about this game. Makes me curious.

Particularly that bit about it being a cross between OSR and D20. And that bit about zero-level characters. And that bit about all spellcasters being different. And that bit about it not being a retro-clone.

Not too keen on using d7s and other weird dice, but hey it's not really a concern these days with online dice and electronic tablets and even Excel if you don't want to shell out the bucks for more dice.

Okay, so Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG intrigues me.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Dark Corners of Mystara: Cloaks of Invisibility, Daggers of Poison

There's a lovely article on the Byzantine Intelligence Service on HistoryOfTheAncientWorld.com. And since Thyatis appears to be modeled after Rome / Byzantium, while Karameikos seems to be more of the Byzantium itself -- it would be lovely to not only pattern their respective intelligence agencies against the structure identified here, but also use the Faction rules from Stars Without Number for creating rival agencies / organizations and other local groups.

And while you're at it, think up some factions after lost wisdom and power from the Hollow World.

D6 Digressions: Weird Adventures

My stilled Weird Adventures work has seen new inspiration due to several things: one, the new OGL Wanton Role Playing System and its parent RPG Over The Edge; two, a surprisingly addictive browser game calling itself Fallen London; and three, Naked City -- a contemporary fantasy anthology edited by Ellen Datlow.

Because of WaRP (the acronym for the Wanton Role Playing System), I've decided on a change in game system strategies, because writing and real life do demand more of my time than I'd anticipated. I'll be doing my initial statting out of templates inspired by WaRP and OpenD6 and, of course, Dariel Quiogue's Vivid system for the templates I listed before for Weird Adventures.

Because of Fallen London and Over The Edge, I've begun looking at characters, locales, and signifiers that really evoke the sense of the strange, the feeling that there's another place elsewhere that makes more sense, the gothic, moody, claustrophobic feel you get even out on the beach in a strange land where everyone seems to almost speak a language you don't understand and you have no idea how to get home or find someone you trust -- but have no choice.

Because of Naked City, there's a different sense of something I'd always looked for in what would later be called 'settings' or 'sandboxes' or whatever -- the feeling that no matter what direction you go, the GM has something ready for you and you can't fall off the edge of the world. In Naked City, there are different types of magic, different realities, and most importantly, different types of characters that aren't necessarily easily assessed by a quick scan of the surface and a quick review of their credit rating. Hidden depths and histories.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Dark Corners of Mystara: Strange Waters -- Notes on Karameikos

In GAZ1 (The Grand Duchy of Karameikos), there are interesting passages regarding the waterways of the kingdom:
"Farthest west, near the border, is a thick forest area variously called the Riverfork Woods and the Achelos Woods; these woods are largely unexplored, uninhabited by humans (except for the lucky soldiers garrisoned at Riverfork Keep), and very ominous."
It would be good to establish some kind of Wandering Monster chart and perhaps some keyed encounters in this area regarding the dangers in these woods. It's likely that they would be occasionally sighted along the riverbanks -- the more intelligent dangers might raid ships or prey on unsuspecting travelers.
"There is one swamp in Karameikos -- Blight Swamp, near the western border. It's not a healthy temperate swamp; rather, it's an ugly landscape of dying trees and rotting vegetation. Disease-bearing mosquitoes infest its still waters and strange creatures glide under the water's surface."
You have to pass through Blight Swamp to get from Riverfork Keep to the Black Eagle Barony. Given the ominous nature of the swamp, it's unlikely that night-time passage would be regularly attempted. Like the woods to the north, a Wandering Monster chart and keyed encounter list makes sense and would add to some mysterious sounds and sightings that regular travelers along this route could pass on as rumors. Also, 'bandit raids' from the unscrupulous Black Eagle Baron might plague some regular travelers or high profile targets along this route.
"In western Karameikos, the Rivers Cruth, Magos, Gustos, and Achelos pour down out of the Cruth Mountains. About fifteen miles north of the border of the Black Eagle Barony, they all come together into the greater River Achelos. This river broadens and slows as it passes out of the woody terrain, and drains slowly through the Blight Swamp and out into the Gulf of Halag."

"In central and eastern Karameikos, the river Windrush comes from the Black Peak Mountains, and the rivers Hillfollow and Highreach come down from the Altan Tepes. They all join together near Kelvin, and continue (as the river Highreach) on to the sea."
Both these locations (Riverfork Keep and Kelvin) should be great sources of rumors from the various wilds in the northeastern corners of the kingdom. If there are river-based inns or communities that benefit from river travel, they should also be home to intersting stories, trinkets, clues, and mysteries from wilderness and mountains. They includes a river that veers near the Lost Valley of the Hutaaka, a river that runs parallel to the Duke's Road, and a river that goes to Castellan Keep (which steels itself against the humanoid tribes on these borderlands), and the Altan Tepes Mountains (which hide gold and Frost Giants).
"The nation has many, many smaller rivers not shown on the map. Wherever you, for plot or story purposes, need a river or a creek, add it. You can be sure that any city or community which is not shown as being beside a greater river will be near a small body of water."
One such location is Koriszegy Keep. Supposedly abandoned and haunted, it should still be located near a river or two -- one that would have provided its inhabitants with fresh water and perhaps reliable travel while it was still a living community. Perhaps intrepid adventurers might see ghost boats along its waters as well -- rumor holds that there is an annual ghostly procession of boats from it to a location filled the lost Korizegy Treasure Caverns...


Friday, May 18, 2012

Dark Corners of Mystara: Strange Waters


Between the post I did on rivers in Enigmundia and this post on Ports in Mystara by Bruce Heard (yes, that Bruce Heard), I've been giving serious though to revisiting not just Karameikos, but all of the locales in terms of waterways.

It can be easier to bring large amounts of heavy material up and down these waterways, and I'm thinking ore and building materials that tend to break axles and wheels.

The Riverfork Woods on the border of the Five Shires and Karameikos is a location that draws my attention in particular. Despite being near a swamp, it would be a locus for trade especially given all the hilly terrain in that area. The Riverfork Keep would probably be a critical rally point for fair trade, given the proximity of the Blight Swamp and the Baron in Fort Doom. Mistress Saschia in Luln would probably ensure regular caravans to the north for trade rather than deal with the Baron von Hendricks to the southwest.



Wednesday, May 16, 2012

WaRP: OGL and Over The Edge?

Not quite. Atlas Games has apparently released the rule system (not the setting) to the classic Over The Edge RPG under the Open Gaming License.

I'm quite interesting in seeing who will release books under this simple RPG system (called the Wanton Role-Playing system), because then I will just import all the interesting characters and plotlines from Al Amarja and plop them into the game! Haha!

Seriously though, this fills me with interest. We shall see what happens (steeples fingers).

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Real Life Update: Upcoming Anthology

My short story "The New Teacher" was recently accepted for publication in a local horror anthology.

It's going to be titled Horror: Filipino Fiction for Young Adults.

That's all. Back to your regular programming.


Monday, May 14, 2012

On the Radar: Eldritch Skies


Eldritch Skies seems like an interesting Unisystem RPG. Especially with the Mythos-inspired setting, and the MegaTraveller-inspired font choice and cover design (YMMV).

This book is a complete role-playing game of Lovecraftian science fiction that uses the Cinematic Unisystem. It contains all rules needed to play, and requires no additional material beyond your imagination and a few dice.

In 1931, the Miskatonic Antarctic Expedition found the Elder Ones' city.

In 947, the Mi-Go crashed at Roswell.

In 1958, we used barely understood eldritch powers and took the step to Mars.

In 1994, human scientists cracked alien technology and overcame the lightspeed barrier and brought us the stars. They also brought us the madness that lies between them -- the mind-twisting undarkness of hyperspace.

It is 2030. The Gilman-Hawking drive has given us access to the stars. But we are not alone. We've never been alone.  Aliens, gods, and monsters are out there; but they've always been here.

We walk amongst giants. Tread carefully.

I like Unisystem, and -- like almost all Cthulhu Mythos influenced settings -- it should be fairly easy to crib material from other game settings.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

CharGen: Brother Behemoth -- Horned Prince of Animals

Here's the last post on the creation of my ICONS character. I think I'll try a few more offline before I think about running an online play-by-post game of this. It's an interesting system. Here we go:

BROTHER BEHEMOTH

ABILITIES

Prowess - Ideal Maximum Human (6)
Coordination - Above Average Human (4)
Strength - Superhuman (8)
Intellect - Exceptional Human (5)
Awareness - Above Average Human (4)
Willpower - Ideal Maximum Human (6)

POWERS

Control - Telekinesis (2)
Mental - Animal Control (6)
Defensive - Invulnerability (6)
Offensive - Aura (1)

This is as far as I got in the prior posts; I had to come up with a character concept and background to fit what I rolled up, and here's a more refined, slightly modified version of my character background:
Adam Silangan had an obsession with occult matters. Unlike the other intensely driven members of the mytical community, he didn't seek riches or power or immortality -- he merely wanted to understand the true nature of the world. Thus, he became right-hand man to a powerful sorceror seeking the horn of the mythical Behemoth, the legendary beast mentioned in the Book of Enoch, rumored to be slumbering in the lands near Eden.

It was he who found the entrance to Behemoth's lair, it was he who discovered the horn for his master, but was accidentally cut by its razorsharp tip. Annointed by blood, the horn transformed Adam Silangan into one of the Brothers Behemoth, blessed by a fraction of the monstrous creature's power and charged with protecting the lair's secrets until the Seals have been broken.

As Champion of Behemoth, Adam Silangan is blessed with incredible power (Strength) and toughness (Invulnerability). His skin bristles with thorny spines (Aura), and he is granted dominion over animals (Animal Control). He is also granted dominion over two ghostly monkeys, who invisibly perform his will (Telekinesis).
And now, to finish off the the character creation with the last remaining steps:

SPECIALTIES


I rolled up three specialties, and I finally chose these:
  • Occult --> his passion for the occult grants him substantial familarity with its subject matter
  • Investigation --> his occult knowledge came from research, reading, and interrogating the knowledgable
  • Stealth --> he became quite skilled at sneaking about in his line of work

STAMINA [14] --> based on the sum of his Strength and Willpower, Brother Behmoth's pretty tough.

DETERMINATION [1] --> but with his super-strength and multiple powers, his starting Determination is at the minimum. He'll need to continuously tap his Qualities and Challenges in-game to be able to spend more.

So that qualities shall we give him?

QUALITIES

  • Champion of Behemoth --> allows him to tap into his rights and responsibilities as a chose of this mythical, apocalyptic creature
  • Connections: the Mystical Underworld --> he's considered a denizen, if not a player, in the Mystical society of Earth
  • Identity: Finder of Lost Knowledge --> before that, he was a well-known go-to guy for the masterminds and mystics after key items that would enhance their mystical knowledge, status, or power.
  • Motivation: To safeguard the Seals of Creation --> as Champion of Behemoth, he was privvy to a vision of the terrible end that will befall the world if the Seals are broken; his mercenary heart was forever changed by that vision and he struggles with all his might to stop it from ever happening.
What difficulties can he expect?

CHALLENGES
  • Enemy: Beloved of Leviathan --> he has a rival, his other number, a female champion of Leviathan, mystical beast of the sea. Occasionally, she is sent to bedevil his quests, and to thwart his intrusions into the many occult secrets hidden on islands or beneath the surface of the seas.
  • Enemy: The Inheritors of Eden --> the sponsors of the expedition that granted him power are quite keen to regain the horn from him, but have learned the hard way that directly opposing the Champion of Behemoth is difficult; they plot and scheme to trap him, weaken him, and kill him for its power.
  • Personal: The Call of the Wild --> An intellectually-inclined man, he struggles to rein in the powerful animal instincts that suddenly tug at his being.
  • Personal: The Lure of Forbidden Knowledge --> Still inquisitive at heart, he is sometimes tempted to embark on personal expeditions into great occult dangers just to learn more.
That's it! Interesting character creation process; I'd forgotten how much fun rolling up a supers character was.

My inspirations for this character are Swamp Thing / Man-Thing, these monstrous creatures who are forever running into supernatural creatures that they have fight; Hellboy, the World's Greatest Paranormal Investigator (because he tends to survive every encounter, despite not being especially bright -- it's a matter of the sheer weight of experience); and the infamous Demon Entrigan / Jason Blood tandem.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

On The Radar: Far West -- Weird and Wild


Far West is a different take on the Weird West. I've been seeing this come up for a while now, so I thought I'd put up a quick post on it.

According to the Far West site, here's the premise of the game:
Imagine: A fantasy world, but not one based on Medieval/Dark Ages European culture and myth, but rather one based on the tropes of the Spaghetti Western and Chinese Wuxia. Add steampunk elements. Mix well.

A fantasy world that’s The Gunslinger meets Storm Riders meets Deadwood meets Afro Samurai meets The Wild Wild West meets Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon meets Django meets Brisco County meets House of Flying Daggers and more.

A fantasy world that’s explored through a constantly-updated website, a tabletop role-playing game, a web series, artwork, fiction, comics and much, much, more. A fantasy world that is shaped by its own fan community.

This is Far West.

The set up is interesting, not only because I like a lot of the inspirations of the game, but also because it evokes a slight feel of Firefly / Serenity with its mix of Eastern elements into the West, and because it is posited as a fantasy world -- sort of  like a small kitchen sink setting that spans many subgenres.

There are some interesting posts on several clans (The Jade Family, The Rangers, The Preachers, The Foxglove Society)  in the game setting, and more material on their website. Do take a look.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Armchair Reviews: The Book of the Empress


You may have guessed, based on my posting history, that I'm a Champions gamer and have a fascination for the super-hero genre apart from that. That's why there's a bit of a bias when I look at supers material (positive and negative), because it really is a matter of what type of supers campaign you want when judging source material.

Here's my review of the latest entrant into the Hero sourcebook arena: The Book of the Empress.
The Book of the Empress is a sourcebook that tackles a cosmic level antagonist in the Champions Universe: Istvatha V'han.

What's intriguing about it is how the book not only adds layers to the character of Istvatha V'han, but also how she relates to two other well-known cosmic level antagonists in the Champions Universe, and just how complicated invading dimensions and conquering them can be.

The history of her rise to power is not entirely one-note, but the complexities really arise when she begins to encounter other expansionist players in the multiverse with designs on what she claims as her territory (Champions Earth). There are enough interesting wrinkles to that history and the workings of the multiverse to overcome one of the problems of many super-heroic settings not based on ongoing comics series: insufficient twists and turns and a stunningly small amount of major players. In the Book of the Empress, the field that she plays on is complex, peopled with many varied types of opposition, and the history has the feel of a rich comic book universe.

The Empress of a Billion Dimensions is statted out, but has variant versions for other genres, should you choose to limit her magnificence.

Her minions are statted out as well, and a rich mix they are: general forces, several select races, an elite force, and the equivalent of an Imperial Battalion populated with heroes and villains from alternate universes that will be familiar to the heroes of your campaign.

There's also a good explanation of the Champions Multiverse (which is based on the Sephirothic Tree of Life), notes on Imperial Technology, Vehicles,  and a guided tour of the Empress's Empire -- government, domains, and how all them are gearing up for the invasion of Earth.

Most useful: the in-depth look into the personality and plans of Istvatha V'han. A must for GMs trying portray a fiercely competent, accomplished, and powerful individual who may, at some point, interact with the PCs.

For someone looking to do an ultra-mega-crossover in a super-heroic campaign, this is the book for you.

The book really left me with a hankering to run a wide screen type of campaign, but -- like most comics crossovers -- this would probably take at least a year to run!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

CharGen: Same Hero in ICONS -- the concept!

Remember this?

Prowess - Ideal Maximum Human (6)
Coordination - Above Average Human (4)
Strength - Superhuman (8)
Intellect - Exceptional Human (5)
Awareness - Above Average Human (4)
Willpower - Ideal Maximum Human (6)

Number of Powers: 4

Control - Telekinesis (2)
Mental - Animal Control (6)
Defensive - Invulnerability (4)
Offensive - Aura (1)

Specialties: 3

Well, I have my concept here: I have a man, probably a hunter or a security guard to an evil or amoral archaeologist, who accidentally gains the favor of the mythical Behemoth mentioned in the Book of Enoch and found in the lands near Eden. Behemoth, lord of the creatures of the land, rival to Leviathan, lady of the creatures of the sea, both imprisoned until the end times!

Marked by Behemoth, Adam Silangan gains incredible power (Strength) and toughness (Invulnerability). His skin bristles with thorny spines (Aura), and he is granted dominion over land mammals (Animal Control). He is also granted dominion over two ghostly monkeys, who invisibly perform his will (Telekinesis).


Since I randomly rolled up his origin, I got the transformed origin which means I get to up the level of something by 2. I think I'll pick the Invulnerability to go up to 6, in order to match the mythical level of toughness associated with the Behemoth.


Next: Rounding Out the Character

CharGen: A Hero in ICONS

Pencils to Jim Lee's ICONS. No relation.
Decided to try out randomly rolling up a super-hero in the ICONS RPG. It's a rules light system with some infusion of FATE rules.

Here's what I came up with:

Prowess - Ideal Maximum Human (6)
Coordination - Above Average Human (4)
Strength - Superhuman (8)
Intellect - Exceptional Human (5)
Awareness - Above Average Human (4)
Willpower  - Ideal Maximum Human (6)


Number of Powers: 4


Control - Telekinesis (2)
Mental - Animal Control (6)
Defensive - Invulnerability (4)
Offensive - Aura (1)


Specialties: 3


He could be your classic tough guy with the Invulnerability and the Superhuman Strength, but then he has Animal Control really high up there, and some low-level Telekinesis, plus a really low level damage aura. Gotta think up a concept to match the powers before I go further.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Enigmundia: A Different Take on Mystara's Thyatis

Enigmundia's Karameikos is Zan Lasario. It is colonized by a fantasy Spain analogue, rather than a Byzantium / Romanesque empire like Thyatis.

So what of the Emperor of Thyatis, who rose from the ranks of the gladiators? How do we handle him?

First off, since there are several modules in which gladiators figure prominently, I'd be loathe to remove them entirely. Furthermore, I particularly enjoy the secret role they apparently play in preventing monsters from the Underworld from emerging into the light of Thyatian streets, so I here's what I come up with:

Fencing + Bullfighting with monsters + arena dungeon crawls

Fencing

Instead of the traditional gladitorial weaponry and armor, we use at sabres and foils and daggers. We approach the various gladitorial schools as different styles and schools of swordfighting. There are master swordsmen and master swordsmakers; families of styles and odd orphaned counterstyles; there are butchers and artists that all take to the arena in duels of skill and honor.

Bullfighting with monsters

But they don't always fight each other. As in Thyatis, they prepare themselves to fight against creatures of the Underworld; many of the battles in the public arena are against monsters who have wandered up from the depths into the traps of the Empire. Their deaths at the hands of individuals and teams in the arena is reminiscent of bullfighting and the Roman battles against lions and tigers and wild creatures from far off lands.

Arena Dungeon Crawls

Once a year, in the Grand Arena of the Empire, a new dungeon design is realized in stone and wood. Creatures rare and wild are released into it a day early to find their homes, while larger chambers house monsters both intelligent, exotic, and deadly. Masked teams from different schools are sent into the arena's dungeon to fight against the monsters, to find the hidden entrance to the central chamber, and defeat and kill the foul criminal swordsman within.

Fading Suns 3rd Edition: I've Got A Bad Feeling About This

Rest in peace, 3rd Edition.
I read the following post about Mr. Darthgus being effectively fired from RedBrick's FS 3e Project.

After some shocked silence, I began to read a bit more closely.

Here are some choice lines in the communications sent to him (you can check his responses and reactions at the link above):
[April 30th, 2012] -- 

Dear Angus,

After serious consideration, I regret to inform you that your services are no longer required with regards to Fading Suns Third Edition and Noble Armada Third Edition development...

Brutal. No more 3rd Edition? And then this one was also sent after he sent some e-mails asking for clarifications and explanations:
I don't believe that I indicated the game line would be canceled. However, to avoid ambiguity, RedBrick will be continuing with the Fading Suns and Noble Armada licenses and with Third Editions of those games. I confirm that none of the content that you personally have created for FS3 and/or supporting materials (Dispatches, Shards, etc.) will be used by RedBrick.

More shocking there. Considering the project was written largely by Angus/Darthgus, pretty much all the posts I put up previously are out the window. Further communications show that he retains the rights to all the material he's written, except:
any and all elements directly related to HDI's Fading Suns and Noble Armada games, including, but not limited to elements of trade dress (logos, images), proper and place names, races, game elements, or content that has been published by Holistic Design and/or RedBrick under license from HDI. This includes use of and/or representation of the mechanics of FS3 as the Victory Point System.

So what does that mean, aside from someone essentially losing years of his life's work (until he can find someway to rewrite it and publish it in a manner that doesn't violate the agreements he signed)?

Here's what I think it means, based on pure speculation: RedBrick has probably gotten some promising numbers on their release of Earthdawn under the Savage Worlds and Pathfinder rulesets and is moving ahead instead to push Fading Suns under one or both of those rulesets.

Sadly, I play neither system.

UPDATE 1

A quick hop to this post on the RedBrick forums suggests they're still looking at a GenCon release. I guess we'll just have to wait and see what the heck is going on here:
Too early to make that call, but we're still looking for a Gen Con release (Player's Guide only, however; not both Player's and GM Guides). The changes to the game won't be as extensive, however.

In terms of impact for the Savage Worlds and Pathfinder Editions, there are none at all. In this case, it means a closer alignment to the VPS product.
UPDATE 2

Well, the post I mentioned in Update 1 is down. Actually the entire thread is down. I guess they're sorting things out of the public eye, and I hope things are cleared up. In the meantime, there's a note on message boards that the discussion forums are closing (dated May 10, 2012).
We wish to advise that the RedBrick Discussion Forums will be closing in a few days' time.

In the meantime, current posts and threads have been set to read-only to allow people to archive material that they might find useful.

The News and Announcements and Downloads areas will remain open for now, to provide updates on current and new products.

Once we have migrated to the Online Shop, new product releases/announcements and errata will be available from the home page and/or product pages.

Should you wish to contact us, you can do so at:

General Inquiries: admin@redbrickllc.com
Product Errata: errata@redbrickllc.com

Thank you for your patience and support as we go through this period of rapid change.
And an official statement on the situation with Angus that posted earlier (dated May 7, 2012):
It is with regret that we announce that RedBrick will not be continuing with the work and vision previously laid out for Fading Suns Third Edition by Angus McNicholl. Angus is no longer a member of the Fading Suns Development Team.

The remaining members of the team -- including Vidar Edland, who has also been active with Fading Suns Third Edition to date -- will be taking on the responsibility and direction for the Fading Suns game lines. It is our intent to focus on a team approach to development, rather than the vision of individuals, moving forwards.

These changes were not made lightly, and while sudden, we regret any disruption in the production timeline.
RedBrick is committed to creating quality products in line with the vision held by and directives of Holistic Design, from whom we have full support. To this extent, we have recently negotiated a license for a revised Noble Armada space miniatures game and extended our license to include tabletop miniatures and game rules for the Fading Suns universe, among other yet-to-be-announced products.

While time is now against us, our expectation is to have a book released for Fading Suns at Gen Con 2012. While it is fair to say that the changes to Third Edition may not be as extensive as originally laid out by the previous Line Developer, it is still our business goal to ensure that Fading Suns is available in print and supported over multiple game systems, including VPS, Savage Worlds, and Pathfinder. This is as previously announced and no changes to those plans have occurred; this change affects only the VPS game line.

EDIT: There has been some misconception about the multiple systems with people concerned it means dual- or triple-statting books. Per our House of 'Brick newsletter, it's a separate game line for each system (people who don't want SW or PF can have VPS, or SW-only, or PF-only, as desired). Apologies for that confusion.

We understand that there will be some degree of emotional duress among Fading Suns fans over this announcement, and for that we apologize. However, the background and reasons leading to this decision will not be discussed by RedBrick or our members.

We respect Angus's skills and abilities and wish him every success with his endeavors in the future.
Which is troubling, since even this post will disappear when the message boards go down. So, still waiting for the dust to clear.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Armchair Reviews: Devil's Gulch for the BRP system


I posted a quick listing of various Western RPG books a while back, but here's another one that just recently came out for the Basic Role-Playing System.
Devil's Gulch does double-duty as both a setting book and a genre sourcebook, and given a page count of only 92 pages, that's a tall order.

It delivers both, sufficient to kick off a short Western campaign set in Devil's Gulch for a while.

On the genre sourcebook end, it provides an all important one-page listing of various aspects of the 'Code of the West' in the Old West -- measure a man by what he is today, not by his past; never try on another man's hat; give your enemy a fighting chance, etc. It's great at evoking a real sense of the times and climes of that almost mythic era.

It also gives various character professions that add on to the other more normal (time-period appropriate) professions for the era -- with a particular 'weird west' bent to them. I particularly like the snake oil hustler and the hexmaster, though the medicine man is also a welcome inclusion as well.

As a setting sourcebook, it gives a respectable number of locations in Devil's Gulch that are easily extractable to your own setting if you wish. Each location has a map, a statted-out NPC or two if appropriate, and a short but detailed description of what if found within, along with telling details that reinforce the western feel of the setting. I enjoyed little things like the lists of supplies that can be found in the general store, and how easy fires can be started in the dry, almost-entirely-made-from-wood buildings of Devil's Gulch.

The NPCs are also memorable, worthy of stealing from when looking for a random NPC walking the streets to liven up the session.

That interior art is consistent and distinctive. It's not really a photorealistic approach, but a moody, evocative, slightly cartoony feel -- kind of like the art in the Weird Western comic book The Sixth Gun and the art in Alan Moore's League of Extra-Ordinary Gentlemen -- that captures and evokes the weird western feel quite well.

If you're looking for something to expand your Weird West collection of materials, or have been hankering to run a Weird West campaign using the BRP system, this would be a fine addition to your sourcebooks.

I really wish there could be more, but in a market that may not have that much call for too many Weird Western books, this is a strong entry to test the waters with. Hopefully folks will buy it -- especially at the current less than $10 price.

If you want to look at a series of posts I did on the comic book I mentioned above (The Sixth Gun) and what things can be mined from its pages, here are the links:

Inspiration: The Sixth Gun
Mining the Sixth Gun: Weapons of Dark Purpose
Mining the Sixth Gun: Monstrous Men
Mining the Sixth Gun: The Strange and the Familiar
Mining the Sixth Gun: Friends and Posses

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Armchair Reviews: The Mythos Dossiers (for The Laundry RPG)

I've done reviews for the other two books for The Laundry RPG here:

The Laundry RPG
Laundry Files: Agent's Handbook

And now I'm reviewing their latest book: The Mythos Dossiers.

Interesting and detailed depiction of a very familiar desk in the novels of The Laundry series. I shan't spoil anything.

The Mythos Dossiers is an interesting supplement / sourcebook. The presentation and content of the sourcebook to emulate actual files that would be found in the intelligence dossiers. Like the novel, these files are codenamed rather interestingly: BLUE HADES, ANNING BLACK, EQUUS STELLAR, PLUTO KOBOLD, etc. and are more or less consistently used throughout the sourcebook across all 'files', reinforcing the feel of working for a bureaucratic agency dealing with the supernatural.

The formats of the files found in the dossiers are many and varied: there are letters, handwritten and typewritten; there are transcripts of recorded interviews; there are photos that are vague yet suggestive; there are diagrams; there are situation reports and assessments; and so on.

Some of them are quite humorous, such as the BLUE HADES interview; others are terrifying in their implications. Even better, the more files that you read in each dossier, the more you learn about each topic -- players and GMs may end up drawing connections between things that they wouldn't have seen taking each file individually.

GMs can use this sourcebook as inspiration for scenarios and campaigns. They can also hand out entire dossiers grouped by codename to get PCs ready for a scenario tackling that dossier. They can also hand out files piecemeal, allowing the PCs to learn more and more as an adventure or scenario progresses.

I love this sourcebook -- it feels true to both inspirations: the classic Call of Cthulhu handouts and The Laundry novels.
I neglected to mention that there are game mechanics and stats for certain things not covered already in the main RPG book.

I have to say that this source really seals the deal for me -- I must run The Laundry despite my utter ignorance of the U.K. intelligence community. The ASTERION SNARL material alone give me enough for a non-mythos centered campaign that would be fantastic lead-in to the bigger menaces in the world of The Laundry.

Friday, May 4, 2012

A Question of Canon: Mystara and Enigmundia

Enigmundia is many things. One of those things is its place as a dark, distorted mirror of Mystara.

Why not just call it Mystara? Because I discovered something troubling called canon, and despite the constant advocacy to "make the setting your own", I'd feel odd constantly referring to my additions and tweaks and appropriations from other sources as 'Mystaran'.

Hence: Enigmundia.

What things have I / do I plan to mess with that I feel would change Mystara fundamentally?
  • The Immortals of Mystara -- they play the role of gods in this D&D setting, but have an interesting structure to them. This is because it is stated in D&D BECMI that there are Immortal Paths available to mortals; any mortal can become Immortal if they get to Companion level and then embark on the paths of immortality. And there are mysterious Old Ones who were revealed in the Wrath of the Immortals campaign intimating that the Immortals (including the really ancient ones like Cronus) are meant to learn something through Immortality but haven't. I plan to muck about with this and change it substantially through my own fascination with gods and mythology and the Cthulhoid pantheon.
  • Alphatia -- I like Thyatis as it is, but I had concerns about the rationale on how a thoroughly chaotic nation of mages somehow manages to have an empire - something that requires logistics and planning. Also, given the BECMI game system, it's a given that low level mages learned how to plan ahead with their precious fire-and-forget set of spells for the day, so that must be factored in somehow into the character and habits of all standard D&D mages.
  • Some Nations -- Well, not all Gazetteers are my favorites. Sometimes it's the art and the depiction, sometimes it's just that the core concept of the region or nation doesn't resonate, and I want to replace it entirely.
  • The Hollow World -- I posted my thoughts on my alternative Hollow World, though it retains to some extent the concept of 'preserved cultures' inside the world. I'd totally rip off all the really cool ideas elsewhere on traveling to a hollow world into my take on it. And I'd add other cultures into that expanded Hollow World concept.
I'll be writing more about this in the future, but I guess I want to rationalize why I'm doing this. I love the Mystara canon, but psychologically there's a barrier because it's not canon.

I'm weird that way.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Enigmundia: Rivers Run Through It

Some of Arnold Arre's 2000 work. A lot if his paintings actually
inspired my early attempts at RPG work in Fuzion, but it didn't
see the light of day, sadly. Much of this work is arguably set in the
shared world of Hinirang (and that's the setting I was working on),
but I'd have to ask him moving forward. There are Tiq'barangs in
this painting, along with other creatures of Philippine myth.
Informed not only by WFRP, but also by my experiences in the Philippines and by a certain seminal fantasy novel, I incorporated river travel into my modified Mystara setting.

The primary use was trade; secondary use was transporting people. This meant caravan travel quite often involved people following alongside or within sight of the river barges and boats.

I also incorporated the concept of rest stops along the river -- some warehouses, some moorings, some inns that primarily cater to travelers along the river.

I stopped short of creating a system whereby certain types of material would travel certain river segments, then travel the rest of the way via carts and other wheeled contrivances -- but I did allude to them.

They also made slightly modified water creatures interesting potential encounters.

Other potential encounters: river pirates, ornery owners of other boats, grifters and con artists, and peddlers of food stuffs (they cook along the river, attracting customers through aroma).

Inspired by the aforementioned seminal fantasy work (Lord of the Rings) I started thinking of shrines to the gods or spirits of the river, but my campaign ended before I could follow up on that thread of thinking.

How have you made use of riverways in your campaigns?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Inspiration: More Prometheus



The international trailer of Prometheus is revealing even more about the movie. In line with my prior posts, I like looking at films like this and seeing what they might contribute to games I run and backstories that I concoct.

The clearest element here is the concept of the 'alien gods' and that our understanding of science and magic is pitiful compared to the scope that they operate on.

Another element here is that of mere mortals who seek to interact with the 'gods' and their artifacts. Unlike the traditional campaign, which tends to treat godly artifacts as compliant tools, it is argued here that -- like the One Ring -- they may have purposes and agendas that humanity tends to ignore or misinterpret.

And the consequences rarely turn out in favor of humanity.

Which brings me to ruminate on Mystara's Wrath of the Immortals campaign, which I'll tackle in another post...

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